This year’s prestigious Channel 4 Diversity in Advertising Award in the U.K. has gone to “Me, My Autism and I,” a short film for Reckitt’s Vanish stain-remover brand from Havas London and director Tom Hooper that shines a light on autism, particularly among girls, who are three times less likely to receive a diagnosis than boys.
Hooper cast an autistic girl as the lead of the almost four-minute film, which also features her real-life family and friends. The action takes place in a single day, as the girl, Ash, navigates challenges at home and at school—with the climactic conflict involving clothing, as the CPG brand reveals its commitment to the issue through a charity called Ambitious About Autism.
In winning the contest, the film earns £1 million worth of commercial advertising airtime across the Channel 4 network. Creatively, Hooper and Havas went into production with a script, but it changed significantly based on the family’s true-life experiences.
“The film was truly a co-production with Ash and the family—I wanted it to be their voice,” Hooper said. “Everything in the film is based on Ash and the family's experience of living with autism. The script was completely rewritten to reflect their lived experience, and we used improvisation on set throughout so that I could capture their voices.”
Ash had never acted before, aside from a school play, and had never been in front of a camera. “It was so important for me to cast an autistic girl at the center of this film, and ideally a real family,” Hooper said. “I was astonished by Ash and her family. Ash is an extraordinary actress, a unique talent who commands the camera in every frame. Going through the rushes in the edit she was incapable of being false or untruthful.”
Ash’s mother has a background in stage acting, but her father and sister were also acting for the first time. Her two friends in the school scenes were played by her actual best friends, and were also non-actors.
“As a culture we’ve been going on an important journey about representation and identity. Ash’s brilliance shows the talent that you can unleash by allowing people to tell their own story,” said Hooper.
The film launched last week during World Autism Acceptance Week, ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on Sunday, April 2. The brand tie-in is based on a truth about autism, as well—that for most autistic people, familiar and consistent clothing can help with sensory regulation and provide a source of comfort. The overall goal is to nurture a conversation to broaden public understanding of autism, particularly in girls.
“Ash was only diagnosed 18 months ago—the diagnosis took three years,” said Hooper. “Changing the system so that autism in girls can be understood and accepted is so important. Girls are underrepresented in the autism narrative. I hope this film in a small way helps to start to readdress that, by giving Ash and her family their voice.”
The brief for this year’s Diversity In Advertising Award challenged brands to tackle the ongoing lack of authentic portrayal and representation of visible or non-visible disabilities. This is the first time Channel 4 has revisited a theme for the award; improving disabled representation was also the focus 2016’s award, won by candy brand Maltesers for a set of humorous ads in which disabled people told funny stories about their lives.